Some people say Canada doesn’t need unions anymore, but unionized labour plays a vital role in keeping the Canadian economy healthy and in the daily lives of ordinary Canadians. Union workers account for over 40 percent of the Canadian workforce and provide many benefits for both workers and the public.

Some of these benefits include the types of things that Canadians take for granted. They were fought for long and hard by labour unions over the years to implement and, in most cases, governments have taken credit for implementing them.

Fighting for their rights

Before unions first appeared in Canada in the early 1800s, 60-hour work weeks were common and many people had to endure unsafe work conditions, receiving little in the way of retirement and benefits packages. Unions fought for the 40-hour work week, as well as pensions, holidays and health insurance. Better wages were also a major concern.

Higher wages with periodic raises helped to secure better quality of life for all workers. In 1872, Sir John A. McDonald signed the Trade Union Act, giving workers the legal right to form unions and to fight for the better working conditions they wanted.

There were many struggles for unions in their efforts to increase the standard of living for the working person, including people losing their homes, livelihoods, freedom and, in some cases, their lives to further the cause of working people.

History books do not tell us much about the good things that unions have done, but there are many things that we have in our lives today that were put into place by unions, and we salute the efforts of those workers that struggled to implement change for the better.

Steady and safe work for life

Before unions were formed, workers often were faced with dangerous, unsanitary working conditions and not given respectable retirement packages. Steady work was hard to come across and once workers were past 50 years of age, there was no future for them at all.  Now we see a total reversal of this in the current trend to keep skilled workers on the job into their 60s and 70s.   It is well known that union members receive excellent retirement packages, and are able to refuse work if they feel it’s unsafe.

“Unions fought for the 40 hour work week as well as pensions, holidays, and health insurance.”

Skilled labour does a better job

When Building Trades union workers are on the job, we have an assurance that they are properly trained in building codes and best practises with high skill levels for whatever project they’re working on. This assurance that the job will be done right, safely and productively is the reason that all work in construction and maintenance should be unionized.

Building Trades unions have provided a mobile workforce to build Canada for over 100 years in many cases, and have only really been recognized for this achievement lately because of the worker shortages.

Building Trades union members are not bound to work in one city or province, but can work anywhere in Canada because they possess valuable, transferable skills that are in demand all over the world—and these skills can be applied to a multiple situations and projects. This provides an unmatched level of flexibility, utility, and mobility which makes the union worker more valuable to industry.

Union workers have excellent job prospects, a good quality of life and a bright future because of the work that was done in the past by unions that sacrificed their lives in some cases to make a better life for the working man in Canada. We need to remember that on Labour Day, and take a moment to thank them for the excellent standard of living we have today.